Frances ‘Fanny’ Bridgman was a blacksmith’s daughter, baptised in Litcham March 23 1828. Her father died in 1832 at the age of just 33 ,the 1851 Census shows that Fanny’s mother was by then running the blacksmith business herself, employing two men (HO 107/1825/337/48)
Frances married Daniel Walne in 19 October 1854, son of a gentleman farmer. The couple went on to have nine children between 1855 and 1869, four of whom were recorded as still living in 1911, by which time Fanny was widowed and living in Brockdish with an unmarried daughter, a granddaughter, and a friend (RG14/11428/84)
We cannot know much for certain about the couple’s marriage, but we do know that Daniel’s financial situation was not always good. He went bankrupt in 1865 (London Gazette 1 August Bankruptcy notices 1865) and his father tied up his inheritance allowing him little control over it. Daniel was regularly hauled before the local petty and quarter sessions for various offences – including furious driving, drunkenness ‘acquiring a horse under false pretences and even ‘smashing windows with a whip’ (see family history details at here).
Frances was not afraid to stand up for herself though. She received an inheritance from a family member in 1881 and was dismayed to find that her solicitor retained this in order to pay some of her husband’s debts. In February 1888 she appeared in Court in London suing the solicitor in question – arguing that he had appropriated £2000 of her inheritance unlawfully, having misled her into signing a deed that made her ultimately responsible for her husband’s mortgages (The Times 3 February 1888 ‘Walne vs Lane’). Frances claimed that she had been made to sign the deed under great pressure, thinking she was only pledging a much smaller amount.
The Judge found in favour of Frances, saying that unless she and her daughter (who was also called to the stand) were committing “the most unblushing perjury” that there had clearly been no assent on their part for the solicitor to hold her legacy. He judged the deed wholly void, and awarded Frances £1870 3s 4d with costs and decreed this must be brought into court within 24 hours.
So, at a time when married women had only recently begun to obtain rights to property and money through the various Married Women’s Property Acts of the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s, a farmer’s wife from Norfolk was standing up for her financial rights at court in London.
Her husband died in 1891, his estate not even covering his funeral expenses. Frances lived her whole life in Norfolk and passed away in 1913. She is buried with her husband at Pulham Market, in a family section of the churchyard.
Find out more: You can see associated estate records at the Norfolk Record Office, NRO, MC 1925/28, 888X8
London Gazette. (1865) ‘Notice is hereby given…’ [Bankruptcy notices]. London Gazette. 01 August 1865. Issue 22996. p. 3806 (28 of 44).
The Times (1888) ‘Walne vs Lane’ The Times. 03 February 1888.